When it came out, the Google Pixel 3 had the best smartphone camera on the market, and it comes in a one-hand-friendly size with a screen big enough to satisfy most folks.
Yes, there’s a successor now, in the Google Pixel 4, which has an extra 16MP telephoto camera as well as the 12.2MP main sensor of the Pixel 3. But even without this newer lens (and all the other Pixel 4 features), the Pixel 3 is still a photography champion – and comes in at an even more competitive price these days.
You don’t need a huge, pocket-busting phone to get fantastic photos (the Pixel 3 has a 5.5-inch screen), nor do you need a dual-lens rear camera (it just has a single lens on back), nor the fastest aperture on a phone (f/1.8 has been beaten by the LG and Samsung’s speedier f/1.5 aperture). Google proves that its 12.2MP photos are superior thanks to machine-learning camera software and photo consistency – even after it’s been surpassed by a newer Google phone.
To this day, the Google Pixel 2 camera still amazes us, and the Pixel 3 builds off of that success with better photo detail and improved HDR. What’s more, the color-rich OLED screen is far superior due to its 18:9 aspect ratio. It’s not bezel-less by any means, but you do get more screen real estate than on the Pixel 2 – and keep the front-facing stereo speakers. It also avoids Pixel 3 XL’s awkward notch cut out that so many people hate on (rightly so).
You’re not going to get everything in this small package. The battery falls short of larger phones at a 2,915mAh capacity, though it still offers all-day battery life with conservative use in our tests. Snapping 100 great photos in two hours seriously tanked our unit’s battery. You’re also stuck with 64GB or 128GB – there’s no microSD card slot, and worse still, no headphone jack. And, as much as we laud the behind-the-scenes camera software and Night Sight mode in our tests, the app doesn’t have all of Samsung’s and LG’s neat camera app tricks.
The Google Pixel 3 is the ideal smartphone for anyone who cares about photo quality and isn’t satisfied with their phone’s picture-taking abilities today. It has the camera smarts and Android Pie-powered AI smarts of the Pixel 3 XL, without the awkward notch cut-out at the top. And, unlike the comparable, one-hand-friendly iPhone XS, it’s cheap – at least by 2018 and 2019 flagship standards.
Or, it was. Since its release, though, Google has also launched the Google Pixel 3a and Google Pixel 3a XL,mid-range alternatives to the high-end Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. The new phones retain some of the cutting-edge features of the Pixel 3 range, although they do lower a few specs too, so if you’re keen to get your hands on one of Google’s handsets, consider checking out our reviews of the newest devices to see if they’re better for you.
On top of that, newer phones have come along to question the Pixel 3’s smartphone camera superiority, like the Huawei P30 Pro, so is it still at the top of our list of the best camera phones? Read on to find out.
Watch our first impressions of the Google Pixel 3 in video form below…
Release date and price
The Google Pixel 3 landed on October 18, 2018 in the US, and November 1, 2018 in the UK and Australia, and also subsequently came out in Canada, France, Germany, Japan, India, Ireland, Italy, Singapore, Spain, and Taiwan. The first pre-orders began right after the October 9 launch event.
The Pixel 3 price started at $799 / £739 / AU$1,199 for the 64GB version, and $899 / £839 / AU$1,349 for the 128GB version. We recommend more internal storage since you can’t upgrade later (remember, there’s no microSD card slot on this phone).
It’s a price hike from the Google Pixel 2 (by $150), yet cheaper than an iPhone XS (by $200). You’re paying for the more expansive screen and machine-learning camera, and the fact that almost all flagship smartphones cost more in 2019. Good Pixel 3 deals see the price roughly halved, so these are worth checking out.
The newer Google Pixel 4 actually costs less than the Pixel 3 did at launch in most regions, with a price of $799 / £669 / AU$1,049 for the 64GB of storage model, and $899 / £769 / AU$1,199 for 128GB, so if you’re looking for a new Pixel smartphone, this might be a preferable option – although because of the Pixel 3’s age, it’s still more affordable.
The Pixel 3 retains Google’s familiar two-tone design – the back has shiny glass at the top, while lower 80% has a matte finish. There’s a more seamless transition between the two textures for a higher-quality look and feel, but overall its look hasn’t changed dramatically.
It easily fits in one hand, and, for the most part, you can operate it without resorting to using two hands. That’s the best reason to choose the Pixel 3 over the Pixel 3 XL. It’s screen size is big enough, yet the phone handfeel is rather manageable. Others will appreciate the fact that it doesn’t have an ugly notch cut out at the top, a design choice deal breaker for many. Due to its late 2018 launch, the Pixel 3 also avoids the ‘punch hole’ camera design choice seen in the Honor View 20. It’s trend that’s sweeping 2019 smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S10.
The Pixel 3 series looks similar to its predecessor, but it does in fact use different materials. The entire back is made of soft-touch glass using Corning Gorilla Glass 5. It’s the same strengthened glass that protects the front screen, and it’s all sandwiching an aluminum frame that has a hybrid coating – that’s the only bit of metal you’ll find on the outside.
Sure, the all-glass design makes the Pixel 3 more susceptible to damage (though we have yet to find the scratches that others have reported), but glass also enables a better LTE connection and wireless charging. That’s why we’ve seen a lack of aluminum-backed flagship phones in 2018. The Pixel 3 is the latest causality.
Wireless charging is a new feature for the Pixel phones, and a welcome change now that Google has launched the Pixel Stand wireless charger alongside its new devices. We haven’t had a wirelessly charging Google phone since the plastic Nexus 6.
More rounded edges are everywhere on the Pixel 3. Its frame is less boxy than previous Google phones, a trend we’ve seen from the iPhone and and others. Gone is the harsher silver bevel around the frame and rear fingerprint sensor. It’s like Google put the Pixel 2 through a smoothing machine, and we like the results.
You’ll still find dual front-facing speakers on the Google Pixel 3. No one else is really doing this anymore (except Razer with the Razer Phone 2), so it’s nice to see in a flagship device. You’ll also get Active Edge, which allows you to squeeze the sides of the phone to call up Google Assistant. We much prefer this squeeze mechanic as opposed to a dedicated AI button on the frame, like Samsung does with Bixby button (which we often confuse for the volume down button).
The Pixel 3 comes with USB-C earbuds in the box, which means, no, there’s no standard 3.5mm headphone jack (just like last year’s Pixel 2) and without that microSD card slot, you’re stuck with 64GB and 128GB storage configurations.
The Pixel 3 color are rather muted, with ‘Just Black’ as our favorite of the trio. ‘Clearly White’ looks cheaper and ‘Not Pink’ isn’t for everyone. Okay, it’s the color you want if you’re looking to stand out a bit, but we liked last year’s unique Mint color more. You do get a fresh Mint color on the Clearly White Google Pixel 3 power button, however.
Screen and bezels
The 5.5-inch OLED screen fits into modern times. It’s big and expansive, and sits in a phone that’s smaller than we had expected given the screen size rumors. The entire thing measures 145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9mm and weighs 148g. It’s roughly the same size as the Pixel 2, which had a smaller 5-inch display.
It’s the grown up version of last year’s phone. The Pixel 3 screen looks richer than last year’s Pixel 2, too. The specs note that it has only a few more pixels per inch, but keep in mind the screen is much taller, so there are a lot more pixels spread across a half inch of extra screen. There’s noticeably less bezel thanks to it’s 18:9 aspect ratio rather than the dated 16:9 look. Last year’s oversized bezel, we felt, was the biggest disappointment design-wise about the Pixel 2XL. The Google Pixel 3 fixes this issue.
Oh, it still has bezel. There’s no hiding the two front-facing cameras and speaker at the top and chin at the bottom. But it’s the best we’ve seen from a phone with dual front-facing speakers and without a deep (some would say ugly) notch cut out.